Beth Ferry is the author of our September feature book, The Scarecrow. She is a New York Times best-selling picture book author who lives with her family in New Jersey.
MARMALADE BOOKS (MB): The Scarecrow is a very special book. From the first time I read it, I knew it was destined to win many awards. Can you tell us what inspired you to write about a scared crow and a scarecrow?
BETH FERRY (BF): That is very kind. Thank you. The Scarecrow is a book very close to my heart. The inspiration for The Scarecrow came simply from the word scarecrow. As you’ve just noted in your question, if there’s a scarecrow, there must be a scared crow and I thought wouldn’t that make an interesting story. So the story began as an unlikely friendship story. But as I began writing it, I decided that the scared crow should actually be a nestling. With that decision, it seemed natural that the scarecrow should take on a kind of parental role. This is where this book becomes personal for me because I began to see the scarecrow as my father and the baby crows at the end of the book as his grandchildren. My father had five grandchildren who brought him so much joy. I had never seen my father happier than when he was with his grandchildren and it gave me great joy to subtly include this in the book. So the ending of the book is my nod to the love parents give their children and to the gift that children give their parents by making them grandparents. I wanted the story to show that love and kindness are a cycle and all the love and kindness you give eventually comes back to you.
MB: You've worked with many wonderful illustrators including Tom Lichtenheld. You've said that working with Tom was very collaborative, which usually isn't the case. Did you work closely with the Fan Brothers? Have you had a chance to meet the brothers yet?
BF: You are correct about collaboration being rare in the picture book world. When Tom and I worked on Stick and Stone, we did not collaborate at all and didn’t actually meet until a year after the book was published. But lucky for me, we did eventually meet and we just clicked with each other. This is what led to the collaboration on our next book, Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish. It was fascinating and rewarding to edit and write together and we loved it so much, we are doing it again. I feel very lucky to work with someone who is as smart and kind and talented as Tom.
As for the Fan brothers, I was lucky enough to meet Terry and Eric at ALA (American Library Association) in June of 2019. We had a lovely dinner with our publishers at Harper Collins and I was so happy that I could tell them in person how much I loved their art and how it elevated the book and perfectly portrayed the warmth and heart of the story. Both Terry and Eric were generous and kind and humble. We had a lot of fun talking about art and books and the creative process. The picture book world is lucky that Terry and Eric found their way into it. As for collaboration, we did not collaborate at all, but I was able to see sketches as the book progressed. I’m sure you can imagine how delighted I was every step of the way.
MB: Your first book Stick and Stone in 2015 was a great success. Can you tell us about the journey to getting your first book published?
BF: Like so many writers, I’ve always dreamed of becoming an author and when my youngest started 7th grade I thought now or never. So I joined SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and gave myself two years to see if this was something I could do. I began writing very long, rhyming stories that were truly terrible and the allotted two years were zooming by. In 2011, I challenged myself to write a story under 200 words which addressed a universal theme. I decided to write a friendship book because, of course, there weren’t too many of those. LOL! But I really had no idea what to write until I heard a song called Drops of Jupiter on the radio. This is the line which spoke to me: “Can you imagine your best friend sticking up for you even when I know you’re wrong.” It stopped me in my tracks and I thought: This is what I’m going to write – a friendship story about a stick who sticks up for his friend. I began writing it in prose, but I couldn’t keep to the 200-word count limit I had set for myself, so I decided to try it in rhyme and it worked. My first draft was pretty darn close to the final draft. I had written it in April and I got my agent – the wonderful Elena Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties – in the fall. She sold the story to HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers) in December and it was the craziest, scariest and most wonderful nine months of my life – apart from having my three children, of course!
MB: If my research is correct, you will have 5 books published this year, 3 next year and 4 in 2021. You must be incredibly disciplined and organized. What's your secret?
BF: Well, I’m not sure if that is true. The dates of publication rely on so many factors – the timeline of the illustrator, the season the publisher picks for the book and the publisher itself. I work with lots of different publishers so sometimes there is an abundance of books in one year. I usually have three or four stories going at a time and sometimes a book takes two years from start to finish and sometimes it takes five years, so when that happens you can wind up with five books in a single year! Each and every book has a different path to publication, but each one brings me great happiness and satisfaction.
MB: I've read that you have a bulldog named Chaucer. We had a bulldog named Winston in our family. They can be incredibly smart and funny dogs. I don't think I've ever laughed as hard as I did when I saw Winston jumping on a trampoline. Do you have a funny story about Chaucer?
BF: Oh my gosh, our first bulldog was named Winston too, and he was the best dog we’ve ever had. Chaucer is our new bully and he is two years old. He is much more mischievous than our Winston ever was - who definitely never jumped on a trampoline as yours did. Chaucer, however, does love to jump - to catch bubbles! The height he achieves is mind-boggling. He also enjoys eating dandelion puffs. I can’t imagine they taste good, but he can’t resist them.
MB: What do your kids think of having a successful children's author for a mother?
BF: Thank you for asking this question. It probably won’t come as a surprise that my kids are proud of me. And this just tickles me because I am so proud of them and mutual pride is a pretty amazing thing. I was lucky enough to stay at home with my kids while they were growing up so, in the back of my mind, I always wondered what they would think of that when they were old enough to consider me as a person, rather than just their mom. I really began my career in 2011 so I think they were at the age where they could appreciate what I did and, even though I waited so long to begin, I think they were proud that I finally made my dream of becoming an author come true. It’s a great example to them as well as they are now considering what careers they should pursue: it’s never too late to do what you love.
Thank you so much, Pat, for the interesting and thoughtful questions. It has been my favorite interview ever. Best of luck with all you do and thank you for the kind words regarding The Scarecrow.
Thank you, Beth. It has been a pleasure to get to know you better and to share our love of books and bulldogs! Pat Oldroyd